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BARBARA HASKELL: Each of the
pieces in this show is based on a sys-
tem. Would you describe that system.
BRENDA MILLER: The system is rela-
tively simple. I use numerical sys-
tems to determine the number of
impressions which in turn cause dif-
ferent densities. I chose the alphabet
because it has every kind of linear
mark that you can find. I wanted to
see what would happen if I used all
these marks — a circle, a curve, a
diagonal, a horizontal. The alphabet
gave me the size and the shape.
First, I use the alphabet in its own
order, so there is A-Z in normal se-
quence. I then start again. On the
second impression Z is eliminated.
I keep eliminating the last letter
until the entire alphabet is stamped
in one place from A on top to Z on
You talked about having three parts
to your work, the drawing, the dia-
gram and the wall installation.
Well, the drawing is less of a part. I
use the drawings to check out the
diagrams. The diagrams act like maps
which tell me how to make the in-
Do you feel your pieces exist apart
from their physical manifestations?
They always exist. For me they exist
in a number of ways. They exist in a
diagram that is the map of the work
and they exist when put into their
physical space. The Indians in New
Mexico make sand paintings which
can travel. There was no need to
preserve art; the same drawing was
passed through the generations, yet
each transient drawing was perma-
What is your view toward materality?
Your earlier string pieces had a strong
sense of materials about them, and
the rubber stamp pieces have much
less material impact. Is that impor-
tant at all?
Yes . . . but my sense of materials
has to do with finding the best ma-
terial for the work. The materials are
important, but they're not the goal.
The pieces are not precious objects.
I really wanted to move away from
the idea of preciousness.
In the stamp pieces, if you look at
the diagram you understand the
underlying system, but if you look at
the pieces themselves there is a
sense of mystery about what exactly
the concept or the system is.
The systems are not that complicated,
but I do admit I like intrigue.
Do you see the systems as being
visually evident in the work?
Yes. They can exist at different times
or sometimes exist or not exist in
their physical forms, but they are not
Do you use the system as a means
rather than an end in itself?
Yes, as a means.
You've mentioned that you think of
yourself as a sculptor. Do you want to
go into that?
I think of myself as a sculptor al-
though my feeling is that it is un-
fortunate that we have to be one or
the other. When these pieces are
finally done they are three dimen-
sional and they are conceived of as
three dimensional even in the rubber
Because of the overlay?
Yes, the impressions cause density.
You can see the density.
You mentioned that your first pieces
were rugs. Is that how you started
No, I didn't, I was a painter. When
I stopped painting I began to make
rugs. I was trying to make a very soft
surface and still use the same kind of
image that I had painted. At a certain
point I became less interested in the
image and more interested in the
back of the cloth. Now I think more
about the materials I use as opposed
to letting the materials lead me. I
think it works hand in hand; you
can't help but let your material lead
you, but also you can select the
You don't seem very interested in
color apart from the given color of
I've chosen to eliminate color be-
cause it interferes with the configura-
tion of the piece. Some of the
changes are so subtle that any altera-
tion of color would alter the con-
figuration. The first stamp piece I did
was in blue ink because I happened
to have a blue ink pad. When I
finished the piece and I looked at it
itdisappeared intothewall. The blue
pencil is an editing pencil and I use
it with that in mind.
You were actively involved with the
women's movement. Do you think
that influenced the way your work
went oryourability to use materials?
In a sense I think that it did. I
believe that it allowed me to be more
courageous about what I wanted to
do. I realized that I had nothing to
You once talked about the fact that
your work was literalist, that you
were interested in a real space, not
an illusionary space.
Yes. I work in a real space. When
I make the stamp pieces there are
x number of impressions. I did an
edition of one of these pieces and
it took a while to convince the printer
to not just set the type all at once and
photograph it. Each impression had
to go through the press, in this case,
thirteen times. And it was all printed
in black ink and he couldn't under-
stand why it had to be printed that
way because it would have been so
much simpler to do it the other way
and so much cheaper too. He was
making more money but he was an
honorable man and it took a lot of
explaining and convincing that this
was very important. You can clearly
see the different letters in the dif-
Do you use the structure or grid sys-
tem as a way of working through
these ideas about density?
The interesting thing is that I made
ceiling/floor pieces initially that
made different kinds of densities. I
mean, if you had the identical thing
on the floor as on the ceiling, the
configuration would be very dif-
ferent. When I began working on the
walls I began working with a differ-
ent kind of density. You could leave
these big long wide spaces and still
create a kind of density.
Do you adopt a system as a means
of getting rid of compositional deci-
Absolutely. I make the initial deci-
sion and choose to stay with it. I
select a specific "grammar" to work
Are any of your decisions about the
pieces made empirically, or do you
work from an absolutely precon-
Well, both. I first start working with
the pieces and they are made be-
cause that is what I want to do. I
make a piece and then I diagram it
and then I work from the diagram.
A diagram or piece is capable of gen-
erating itself. The plan always exists
whether or not it's written down
1941 Born in the Bronx, New York
1963 Certificate, Parsons School of Design, New York
1965 B.F.A., University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
1967 M.F.A., Tulane University, New Orleans, Loui-
Lives in New York City
1974 Samangallery, Genoa, Italy
Arte Per, Rome
1975 City University Graduate Center, New York
1971 Greene Street, New York. Two exhibitions,
Winter and Fall.
The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art,
Ridgefield, Connecticut, "26 Contemporary
Women Artists," April 18-)une 13. Illustrated
catalogue, with introduction by Lucy R.
1972 John Weber Gallery, New York, "Group
Show," January-February. Exhibition selected
by Carl Andre; included work by Laurace
James, Mary Obering, Nancy Holt and Andre.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York,
Member's Penthouse, "Untitled IV," April.
Kunsthaus, Hamburg, Germany, "Gedok
American Women Artist Show," April 14-May
14. Illustrated catalogue, with introduction by
John Weber Gallery, New York, "Group
Show." Exhibition included work by Nancy
Holt, Laurace James, Carl Andre, Hans
Haacke, Mary Obering.
Kingsboro Community College, Brooklyn,
The Kenan Center, Lockport, New York, "Ten
Artists* (* who also happen to be women),"
November 17, 1972-January 14, 1973. Illus-
trated catalogue, with text by Lucy R. Lippard.
Exhibition traveled to the Michael C. Rocke-
feller Arts Center Gallery, Fredonia State Uni-
versity College, Fredonia, New York, January
1973 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York,
"1973 Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary
American Art," January 10-March 18. Illus-
New York Cultural Center, "Soft as Art,"
March 20-May 6. Illustrated catalogue, with
text by Mario Amaya.
Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotter-
dam, The Netherlands, September.
1974 Museum of the Civic Center, Philadelphia,
"Women's Work-American Art 1974 "
The Clocktower, New York, "Discussions:
WorksAA'ords." May 11 -June 1.
The Women's Interart Center, New York,
1975 William Patterson College of New Jersey,
Wayne. Exhibition organized by John Perrault.
(not including reviews)
Broos, Kees. Museum journal , "een muurobject van
Brenda Miller," series 18, no. 5, October 1973, p. 214,
Tower, Susan. "The Object Perceived/The Object
Apprehended," Artforum, vol. 12, January 1974, pp.
Weatherford, Elizabeth. "Crafts for Art's Sake,"
Ms. Magazine, vol. 1, May 1973, pp. 28-32, illus.
Dimensions are in inches, height preceding width.
All works are from 1975 and are lent by the artist
unless otherwise noted.
V* inch rubber stamp with black ink and blue pencil
on wall, 52 x 52:
1. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior North
2. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior South
3. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior East
4. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior West
5. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior North
6. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior South
7. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior East
8. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior West
Black ink on paper, 17 x 17:
9. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior North
10. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior South
Sperone Westwater Fischer, New York
11. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior West
Nell E. Wendler, London
12. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior East
13. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior North
Private collection, the Netherlands
14. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior South
Sperone Westwater Fischer, New York
15. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior East
16. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior West
Black ink on graph paper, 17 x 17:
17. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior North
18. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior South
19. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior East
20. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Interior West
21. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior North
22. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior South
23. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior East
24. Diagonal Alphabet (26) Exterior West
December 22, 1975 — January 18, 1976
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 10021
Cover: Diagonal Alphabet (261 Exterior East , 1975
Photograph by Eeva-inkeri